Israeli Arabs More Likely to Be Convicted for Crimes Than Their Jewish Counterparts, Study Shows

Study commissioned by Israel's Courts administration and Israel Bar Association finds that 48.3 percent of Arabs receive custodial sentences for certain crimes, compared to 33.6 percent of Jews.

Tomer Zarchin
Tomer Zarchin
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Tomer Zarchin
Tomer Zarchin

Arab Israelis who have been charged with certain types of crime are more likely than their Jewish counterparts to be convicted, and once convicted they are more likely to be sent to prison, and for a longer time. These disparities were found in a recent statistical study commissioned by Israels Courts Administration and the Israel Bar Association.

The study found that 48.3 percent of Arabs who were convicted of violence, property crimes or drug or weapons offenses received custodial sentences, compared to 33.6 percent for Jews. The average prison sentence was nine and a half months for Jews and 14 months for Arabs.

A class at Ayalon Prison. (Illustrative)Credit: Nir Kafri

In their summary the researchers wrote that the principal finding was that Israels justice system tends to deal more harshly with Arab defendants when it comes to conviction rates, sentencing rates and the length of the sentences.

The study sought to examine the link between ethnicity and harsher sentencing for violent crimes, including assault and battery, as well as drug and weapons offenses and property crimes. It was conducted by professors Giora Rahav, Ephraim Yaar and Yoram Rabin.
A summary of the research findings was submitted to the courts, but the study has not been published.

The study is unique in that it is the first of its kind to be commissioned and funded in part by the courts administration, and in that it sought to examine claims by attorneys that Israeli judges deal more harshly with Arab criminals than with Jews.

The study involved 1,500 criminal cases in the categories noted above, in six magistrates courts and three district courts between 1996 and 2005. Arabs fared worse in eight of the nine courts, in terms of the frequency and size of fines levied on Arabs after conviction as well as sentencing rates and the length of the sentences.

The most dramatic finding concerned the disparity in custodial sentences for all of the cases that were reviewed. The difference was even more striking when the figures for violent crimes were examined separately. While 63.5 percent of Arabs convicted of violent crimes were sentenced to prison, only 43.7 percent of Jewish offenders were.

The disparities were smaller for probation sentences, at 71.2 percent for Jews and 78.7 percent for Arabs.

In a third of the cases there was no disparity in the number of fines levied and the amounts, which came to NIS 4,500 on average.

The researchers noted that factors other than ethnicity could account for the disparities, without pointing to judicial prejudice. These could include mitigating or aggravating circumstances, prior criminal record and the convicts gender.

The courts administration said in a response: This is not the final report and the report has not yet been discussed. The issue will be considered when the final report and its conclusions are presented to the courts administration.

Attorney Barak Lazer of the courts administration stressed that the report was preliminary only. He said the study dispelled some concerns that had been raised about the treatment of defendants, and that any recommendations for action will be made only after the final report is submitted.